Blind Engineer takes stock on 'Human Capital'

Joel Oliphint
Blind Engineer

In late May, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett went on CNN to talk about unemployment amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. At one point during the on-air conversation with CNN’s Dana Bash, Hassett said, “Our human capital stock is ready to get back to work.”

Like many, songwriter and CCAD associate professor Robert Loss recoiled at the phrase “human capital stock,” interpreting it as a dehumanizing descriptor of the American work force. “Adding the word ‘stock’ to ‘human capital,’ I think, made it clear to millions of people exactly what that term means,” said Loss, the singer and guitarist in local rock act Blind Engineer. “It’s people being reduced and having their humanity taken away from them and looked at as tools to create profit for other people, because your human capital isn't worth anything unless it’s creating a profit.”

The phrase and concept inspired the title of Blind Engineer’s new album, Human Capital, which the band will release on Friday, Oct. 2, followed by a livestream performance from the Rambling House on Friday, Oct. 16. It’s an album mostly written in the last four years about “the unfolding of the American tragedy,” Loss said. “If you ever wondered what it was like to live in a time when authoritarians were creeping into control, you don't have to wonder anymore.”

“He offered nothing but his name/Now TV and reality, they’re one and the same,” Loss sings on leadoff track “Radio Face,” which he wrote soon after Donald Trump landed the Republican presidential nomination. Around the same time, the quartet released 2016 EP The Big Restless, which marked Blind Engineer’s transition from a Loss solo project to a full band featuring Jesse Charles (guitar, organ), Eric Nassau (bass, vocals) and Bill Heingartner (drums), who also plays the role of recording engineer.

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The band’s personal and musical relationships go back decades, though, with Loss and Nassau having previously lived on either side of a dormitory wall at Ohio Wesleyan University. “It was the non-drinking house, but we were next door to the Creative Arts House, which absolutely was a drinking house, so it worked out really well,” Loss said. “Eric introduced me to all kinds of bands — to Archers of Loaf, which has been a huge influence on my life and my music. And he got me to accept the Cure.”

Loss also previously collaborated with Heingartner in alt-country act the Wells, and the longtime musical chemistry led to a comforting creative environment while the band recorded The Big Restless and Human Capital. “You just develop this language and this lexicon and these traditions,” Loss said. “You feel like you can take chances when you're working with people that you know and trust so much. … Trying to create music when you're uptight about stuff is just death.”

Blind Engineer took inspiration from ’90s college rock for the sound on Human Capital, with Loss often using alternate tunings on a clean rhythm guitar that counters Charles’ aggressive lead guitar and Nassau’s melodic touch on bass (“He’s the secret weapon on this album,” Loss said), plus the occasional odd instrument, such as the Optigan, an electronic keyboard from the 1970s that uses sounds preloaded on optical discs.

While Loss took inspiration from the current administration for many of the songs on Human Capital, some were written years ago. “Unfortunately, they’re still relevant now,” Loss said, noting in particular a lyric on “Up for Air”: “Crowd at the Statehouse is crying for the dead.”

“That only has intensified. … We’re living in a scary time,” he said. “The moment is asking for more and more from us.”